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September 6, 2011NC State started slow but ended strong in a 43-21 win over Liberty Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh in the season opener for both teams. Now it's time for the first Monday Morning Quarterbacking of 2011.
Key moment of the game:
NC State was leading 30-21 with about eight minutes left in the game when State fifth-year senior tailback Curtis Underwood, Jr. burst through the line for a 35-yard gain, but a hustling Liberty defender stripped Underwood of the ball at the Liberty 33. A review of the play overturned the call on the field that Underwood was down before the fumble, and it gave the possession to the Flames.
On the next play, Liberty senior quarterback Mike Brown was running to his right for a positive gain of four yards when Wolfpack fifth-year senior defensive end Jeff Rieskamp knocked the ball loose and junior defensive tackle Brian Slay made an impressive recovery at the Liberty 43.
The Rieskamp/Slay fumble set up a 7-play, 43-yard drive that culminated with a three-yard touchdown pass from redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon to redshirt junior tight end Mario Carter with 4:20 left on the clock. Freshman kicker Niklas Sade had his extra point blocked, but the score effectively put the game away at 36-21.
Three things that worked:
1. Containing Mike Brown
Liberty's quarterback was compared to both Central Florida signal caller Jeff Godfrey and former State QB Russell Wilson during the week. Brown is an athletic quarterback that can throw the ball well. He is considered a viable contender for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS's version of the Heisman.
Against NC State, Brown ran 20 times for 77 yards and completed 22 of 39 passes for 279 yards, but he reached the end zone just once, on a touchdown pass, and turned it over seven times. Brown also got hit a lot in the game, and he was clearly getting up a little slower each time off the ground in the fourth quarter.
2. Making non-offensive plays
When NC State was up 23-7 almost midway through the third quarter, two of the Pack's three touchdowns were non-offensive. Senior receiver T.J. Graham returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown, and Slay ran a fumble back 52 yards for a score. When Liberty scored a touchdown to cut State's lead to 23-15 in the third quarter, Graham had a 44-yard kickoff return deep into Liberty territory to set up Underwood's 33-yard run. As the offense takes time to gel, defense and special teams will be required to make plays.
3. Adjusting the offense at halftime
NC State came out aggressive, passing at a 2-to-1 ratio over running in both the first and second quarters. State called 26 pass plays in the first half, including five times where Glennon either scrambled or was sacked. In the second half, State went to the run, choosing nine pass plays and 16 runs. The results showed the move was worth it. The Pack running backs ran for 139 yards, an average of 8.7 yards per rush
Three things that did not work:
1. Starting strong
Make no mistake, this game was a dogfight for over three quarters. NC State was down 7-3 for much of the second quarter until Graham's punt return with 3:38 left before halftime. The numbers at halftime were not pretty. Liberty outgained NC State 162 yards to 132. The third quarter was even worse. Liberty had 10 first downs compared to one for the Pack in the third quarter.
2. Passing attack
The final numbers were modest. Glennon completed 18 of 31 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown, and importantly he did not have an interception. Glennon though was sacked four times, once leading to a fumble that was picked up for a touchdown. The two starting receivers, Graham and fifth-year senior Jay Smith, each caught one pass for a combined total of 31 yards. Fifth-year senior and two-time All-ACC tight end George Bryan did not even catch a pass.
3. Consistent special teams
There were two missed extra points, one that was blocked and the other may have had a bad snap. Liberty averaged a too-high-for-comfort 25.4 yards per kickoff return. Freshman Wil Baumann averaged just 36.4 yards per punt Saturday. There were certainly bright moments on special teams Saturday, but State needs to be more consistent.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Liberty's front seven
In hindsight State probably should have established the run quicker. The Pack opened good holes in the second half. The Pack lost just three yards on 29 carries. The biggest worry was the amount of pressure the offensive line allowed Liberty to get on Glennon.
NC State's front seven vs. Liberty's OL
Liberty really didn't even try to establish a running game. The game plan was centered around Brown, who was responsible for 59 of Liberty's 74 plays. State got good pressure on Brown, and the few carries Liberty got did not go any farther than 11 yards. All said it was a good effort from State' front seven.
NC State's WR vs. Liberty's DB
Redshirt junior Tobais Palmer had a solid afternoon with three catches for 46 yards, but it was a quiet afternoon for the rest of the receivers against a secondary that featured more than one transfer from a BCS program.
NC State's DB vs. Liberty's WR
Liberty senior wide out Chris Summers is an NFL prospect, and Wolfpack sophomore corner David Amerson did a good job covering him. Summers finished with five catches for 88 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown where he burned Amerson on a stop and go, but Amerson also picked off a pair of passes. This was a good performance by State's defensive backs aside from one bad drive in the third quarter.
Brown would probably start for a lot of teams in the FBS level. He's a dynamic quarterback, but he also turned it over seven times. Glennon may not have been stellar, but he turned it over just once and didn't make many bad decisions. He also had downfield passes that if Bryan and Smith would have turned their heads quicker would have been nice gains.
Underwood was the MVP for the offense, carrying 14 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. Junior James Washington got going late with 14 carries for 67 yards and another score. The duo of Underwood/Washington were better than anything Liberty had to offer.
Carter caught a couple of passes for eight yards and a score, but the Pack is going to need Bryan to get more involved in the offense. Liberty did not use its tight end much.
Kudos to Liberty for a good effort on special teams. Senior Matt Bevins nailed a 50-yard field goal, senior Mike Larsson averaged 41.6 yards per punt, and Liberty did a nice job on kick returns. Liberty's special teams were more consistent, but State had the big play in Graham's punt return for a score.
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